All in the Family

I could never be David Sedaris' sister. It's not because he would tell embarrassing anecdotes about me in his books--look in any of them and there is an abundance of familial tales. It's not because having such a brother would incite getting phone numbers unpublished, and the telling last name would make for endless "Are you related to David and Amy?"s. Those things I could handle. What I couldn't handle is his honesty. I would never want to read the truth about me. Who would? But when it's someone else's sister...

In reading Sedaris' latest, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, I seem to have traded in many of my usual Sedarian reactions of unexpected outbursts of unusually loud laughter--the type that make the guy in front of you on the bus jump out of his skin in surprise--with a hefty amount of knowing giggles tempered generously with those watery things that threaten to breach two borders of lower lashes. Sure, Me Talk Pretty One Day had a few tender and sensitive essays, but Corduroy blows it out of the water when it comes to choking up.

Why? It's completely and totally relatable. We've all been mean to a relative we truly care about. We've all been judged and, likewise, been judgmental. And I'm not saying I know the Sedaris family personally, but it feels like they might be a lot like mine--not too generous with the affection and timid around the "I love you"s, save for funerals and hospital waiting rooms. We know each other, but then again we have no idea, and it feels a bit--hell, it feels a lot better to know someone else gets that whole dynamic.

In "Put a Lid on It," Sedaris calls himself out on trying to change his sister Tiffany, a barefoot loner with no qualms about being completely honest. "Repeat After Me" starts out as an amusing visit to his sister Lisa's house, leads to brother and sister mistakenly watching You Can Count on Me, followed by Sedaris' admitted insensitivity when it comes to using a personal story of Lisa's and ends with the dropping of an emotional bomb. It's hard not to cry after many of the stories, and it's harder to get them out of your head even a few days later.

Now, I'm not saying the book isn't funny. It is. It's just that this time funny comes in details instead of outcomes and in the recognition of idiosyncrasies that only come by way of the family tree. I'm inclined to say that Sedaris' books have all led up to this one. In Barrel Fever, Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day, we got to meet various incarnations of our beloved storyteller. But as much as Corduroy is about his family, this latest book is Sedaris. He's mastered the comedic, the thought-provoking and the absurd-but-somber. But it's for another reason that Corduroy joins the Personal Account Hall of Fame in the company of Augusten Burrough's Dry and Jennifer Traig's Devil in the Details. Never once did I get the inkling that any story was exaggerated or untrue, even though they very well may be. The entire book could be cover-to-cover fiction, but I never suspected it. And that's all I needed to love it, and hate it, and resent it, and want it, and see myself in it. Kinda like family.

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Merritt Martin
Contact: Merritt Martin